This weekend, Burns Paiute tribal chairperson Charlotte Roderique spoke to Indian Country Today Media Network about the status of the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, “We are really worried about the status of the artifacts down there.”
On Friday, the tribe delivered a letter to federal agencies including the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service demanding prosecution of Ammon Bundy and other armed militants occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, “If the occupiers disturb, damage, remove, alter, or deface any archaeological resource on the refuge property.
There are approximately 4,000 artifacts belonging to the tribe in the buildings the militants are holding. The occupation is entering its third week.
The tribe is demanding federal action under both the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and a "protection against bad men” provision in the treaty the tribe signed with the United States in 1868.
Under ARPA, a federal law authorizing law enforcement and penalties in the defense of archeological sites on public land, removing artifacts is a felony offense. First time offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for up to one year. Second time offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to 5 years.
Bundy supporters have damaged Native American archaeological sites before, most notably, when they drove ATVs through a canyon trail in Utah in protest of protected federal lands trampling the ruins of homes belonging to the ancient Puebloans. Also, the Southern Paiute tribes in Nevada have accused the Bundy family of defacing ancient Paiute petroglyphs in Gold Butte. Incidentally, Southern Paiute community members held a rally last week in Las Vegas in support of the Burns Paiute tribe.
“I understand they took a bulldozer and built a line around the refuge headquarters,” Roderique said. She notes that in the past when a water line was put in at the refuge the tribe’s cultural resources department oversaw the work done to make sure no artifacts or sites were disturbed. “We have a good working relationship with them. That is, the relationship has evolved for the better.”
The community has also reached out to her, “I’ve gotten calls from ranching families who support the tribe. They’ve seen the [Paiute] campsites out there. They’ve been in that area and they know where things are. You can’t go and bulldoze things. I don’t know what these people are doing if they are doing things to just get a rise or to be martyr—all they are doing is making enemies out of the people they professed to support.”
Carla Burnside, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's archaeologist at the refuge, has told the tribe that she has seen pictures in news reports of militants sitting in her office, even at her desk with files open that contain sensitive information about archaeological sites belonging to the tribe.
This past week, the Burns Paiute tribal council passed a resolution to formally recognize Malheur Lake and its shoreline as “Sacred Places and Traditional Cultural Properties” of the tribe and cited the tribe’s own “Aboriginal Lands Protection Policy” which covers “the tribe's aboriginal territory beyond current Trust lands (Resolution 2006-12) which defines cultural resources as: ‘any material objects of human life or activities that are of cultural, historical, archaeological, sacred, spiritual, or traditional interest to the tribe. This shall include all remains, sites, objects, structures, artifacts, implements, plants, animals, and locations within the tribe's aboriginal territory.’”
Occupation leader Ammon Bundy, from Arizona and son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher involved in a standoff with the federal government over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees on public land, has offered to meet with the tribe but the tribe says he has no right to hold their history hostage and have refused to grant him even the appearance of such authority by meeting with him.
“Some of the members of the community were open to them,” Roderique says, “when they first came but now the county chained and locked everything up and said no you can’t have your meeting in town.”
Harney County officials have stated they will not allow the militants to use any county-owned building for fear of more takeovers of public property.
“They tried to ask us for our gathering center and our facility was booked up. We just kind of laughed and said they want to use our 'savage' facilities?”
Roderique was referencing a “Harney County Committee of Safety” website made by supporters of the takeover who profess to exist “to secure the property and lives of the association members from threats from the savages.”
The support, however, has been “overwhelming” says Roderique. The tribe has received letters of support from other tribes like the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Klamath tribe of Northern California and even farther away from First Nations tribes in Canada and many Native American organizations and Mexican American organizations.
“Those things are so empowering. When we had our press conference we didn’t know the attendance and response was going to be as big as it was. I really appreciate all the Native people for their concern because it could be any one of us that this could happen to.”
Roderique told ICTMN that it is not only title to the land that matters to her but the plants and wildlife on the land some of which are going extinct. “We are the Wadatika people. The plants we are named after grow on the banks of the Harney and Malheur lake. If they put cattle in there [Bundy has called for the land to be returned to private ranchers] they will destroy these plants.”
“As a little girl, we’d go along the river in the marshes and gather waterfowl to eat in the spring. We’d make our little tule baskets. I was told by elders if there are three eggs, take one. Leave the other two. One is going to grow up and fulfill its life. One is going to be taken by predators. So you never just go and throw all the eggs in your basket, you only, only take one. Find another nest and find another one. That way there was continuation of the species. Our people have been doing that for thousands of years and those are the things that are taught to the next generation. We restrict our hunting and gathering accordingly to ensure there is a future. We don’t have the attitude that the Bundys have.”
This weekend, the first occupier was arrested in Burns at a Safeway for theft of a government vehicle and another cited for driving without a driver’s license when the government van he was driving on icy roads overturned. And last week, Bundy’s personal bodyguard “Fluffy Unicorn” was arrested in Arizona for an outstanding warrant.
A protest is planned in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday against the illegal occupation by environmental groups including the Portland Audubon and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler